It figures that after my very first post, there would be a huge delay before the next. I think my laptop got a little overexcited, and the hard drive just couldn’t deal with it. Whoops. In the span of time between the failure and now, the wedding (which was LOVELY) has come and gone, and now American Thanksgiving is upon us. So while I intend to get back to wedding etiquette (wediquette?) I believe I’ll skip to something a bit more timely.
I think it might be fair to say that American Thanksgiving is the most formal meal for Americans. I know not everyone goes formal at all, or that others do the Christmas meal up more. Trust, there are plenty of subjects coming up that will apply to Christmas, and as Thanksgiving is mainly about the big meal, I thought we’d cover Formal Entertaining today.
Amy V. begins by recognizing that few homes can accommodate the traditional 34 guests at one dinner table, let alone the space to store the glasses, china, etc., one would need for such a gathering. The mind reels.
In fact, “important hostesses” now feel that semiformal, yet more frequent dinners are best. Or using a hotel or fashionable restaurant for the truly formal. However, as formal dinners are a pesky necessity sometimes, she will deign to let us in on how
“the hostess must marshal her forces for such an undertaking.”
I am ready for the proverbial battle, Amy V!
“First, she must have the room to seat all her guests at one dining room table. The minute she deviates from this arrangement, or makes do with female help at table, her dinner can no longer be considered formal.”
Thought you were fancy hiring a single female server, or something? AU CONTRAIRE, MON AMI!
And you! You, with your separate tables to accommodate everyone! They may as well be eating in a barn! Don’t even get me started on a children’s table!
How informal of me
So. Okay then. Perhaps most of us here today will not be throwing a strictly formal Thanksgiving. But let us carry on anyway, and take away what we can. Unrefined as we may be.
Obviously, you need a chef. And a butler to serve as major-domo over all the other required (male) servants. She does recognize that this is probably all best done by simply hiring a catering crew. Which yeah, totes, that can carry over to today. Cool.
Let’s Get This Party Started
Ha, not really! There’s a whole bunch of things to know before anyone ever even sees the dining room.
8 p.m. is the time to start a formal dinner, though sometimes they may begin at 8:30.
Please have cards on a tray in the hall containing the names of a gentleman and his dining partner. If he isn’t acquainted with her, he’ll need to be introduced. Being under the same roof at such a formal affair is not a sufficient introduction.
Once essential introductions are made, it is time to enter the dining room. But wait, not all at once! My goodness.
The host offers his arm to the female guest of honor, and leads the way. Behind him, the other guests, paired off like they’re boarding the Ark. And finally, the hostess, accompanied by the male guest of honor.
Guests can’t sit down willy-nilly, of course. Once they have entered, the host and hostess stand behind their chairs, and if the party is small enough to not need a diagram, the hostess indicates where guests should sit. Then of course there are charming place cards with the guests last names upon them. Using their given names would be tacky, obviously.
As for the seating arrangement itself
Of course, you’ll have menu cards. Not everyone needs their own, one each in front of the host and hostess, and then one for every three people down the table will suffice.
Can We Eat Yet?
Obviously, your butler will be in charge of all the serving and whatnot, so YOU needn’t worry. But here are a few highlights:
- For parties of 12 or more, it is necessary to have two duplicate dishes presented simultaneously to each 6 or 7 guests. Yes, this I like. More food quickly, stays hot. Excellent.
- Back in the day for royal banquets, when there was a server for every person (!) each plate was taken away immediately once the guest indicated he was through with his silverware.
Now the butler directs the removal of plates, when the majority is finished. Of course they bypass those not finished, and those guests should never feel rushed. I totally would if you took away everyone else’s plates, however.
- There must also not be any clatter or audible staff directions
- Amy V. informs us that 10 course formal dinners were quite customary for the Victorians. That does not appear to be necessary in the 50s/60s.
- She also notes that the presentation of finger bowls has disappeared even from the Waldorf’s formal dinners, and is becoming rare in private homes. So, don’t worry about that, I guess?
- As for conversation at the table. There was apparently a custom of “turning of the table” in which the hostess, somewhere during the middle of the meal, “gently terminates” her conversation with the gentleman to her right, and begins a conversation with the gentleman on her left. The other guests are supposed to watch for this and do likewise. Amy V. however, believes this makes for artificial conversation, and to try to converse with people to both your left and right, and across the table if it’s narrow enough. Ya know, like a normal person. Rock on, Amy V.
Coffee! Cigars! Booze!
After the meal, there are 3 options. If you want to be English about things, the men can stay where they are, and the women venture on into the living room. OR, the men may escort the women, and then
“leave them for the library, or wherever else the men are congregating for coffee.”
Amy V. is done with these men, y’all. She doesn’t care where they go now.
This is also an excellent opportunity for the women to touch up their makeup.
HOWEVER. Should you want to be a bit wild, and do things “Continental fashion,” the men and women could congregate TOGETHER in the living room for after dinner drinks and coffee.
“This is the pleasanter method, it seems to me, and helps prevent that dismaying bandying of men together that so often occurs at American dinner parties.
Fuck. Yes. Amy. V.
Sit Your Ass Down
“Except for some very good reason discussed previously with the hostess, no guest may leave after a formal dinner in a private home in less than two and a half to three hours and even then, not until the guest or guests of honor have departed.”
THAT IS VERY SPECIFIC, AMY V!
If you ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO, do so quickly and quietly. And shamefully. Probably.
Let’s (Formally) Loosen Shit Up (A Bit)
What if you can’t wait until eight freakin o’clock for your meal? Never fear, you can have a formal luncheon!
Main differences (besides the time, you smart-ass):
- Y’all! Progress!
“…although if a butler or houseman is lacking, a waitress is quite acceptable at a formal lunch”
- Gentlemen do not present their arm while going into the dining room.
- Menus aren’t necessary, and place cards are merely considered convenient if there are more than eight people.
- No candles on the table, but flowers or some other centerpiece are nice
- Maximum four courses please, with three being more usual
What If I Just Want To Get My Drink or Dance On?
Of course, there are formal teas and dances at home as well as the meals. As these probably aren’t necessarily on the top of anyone’s Thanksgiving plans (though if they are, yo, let me know all about it!) I’ll just run through some things quickly.
The Formal Tea
- The tea table has to be big enough for two services on trays. One for tea, the other for coffee of chocolate. Tight.
- A hostess must preside over this table. At a very large tea, the actual hostess reserves her energies for her guests, and her two besties can take over the pouring duties.
- If there’s a dull period, guests are permitted to speak to them. But if it’s busy, keep the chitchat down to “cream” “sugar” and the like.
- SOMETIMES things are poured and then passed out by servants. This is unsatisfactory to Amy V.
“The rule is that the tea should come directly from the hands of the pourer to the receiver, that it should be made, if possible, before one’s eyes, as it was in the days when the kettle came directly from the hob and the guests had the pleasure of watching the steam rise and the full fragrance of the steeping tea filled the room.”
That is damned charming reasoning, but to me it sounds like someone is suspicious of being poisoned. But maybe that’s just me.
- This is the weirdest thing to me:
“The room in which formal tea is served is always artificially lighted, with the curtains drawn as if for an evening entertainment.”
The fuck?! That sounds dreary as hell. Count me out for formal teas.
Formal Dances at Home
THIS IS ALL BUCKWILD TO ME
- The invitations state they begin about ten-thirty or eleven. They really get under way around eleven-thirty, however. Okay, count me out for formal dances at home, too, holy shit.
- Naturally, you’ll have a red carpet from curb to front door.
- And you may bejeweled celebrities arriving, requiring protection by a policeman or PRIVATE DETECTIVE
- Supper is served about one o’clock. Yes, in the morning.
- They do at least realize the absurdity of the lateness by not reforming a receiving line as guests leave, because the hosts and guest of honor might have to stay “on duty” until dawn.
- Unless you’re a debutante, then you have to stay up until the last guest departs. Don’t want to disappoint a potential husband, I suppose?
Are you putting the onus on others to hire butlers? How are you supposed to behave as guest for dinner + at least two and a half hours of socializing over coffee and cigars? Check back tomorrow to learn how be a guest at formal meals!